If you have been listening to talk about Ang Lee's HULK, you have heard
comparisons to other stories: Beauty and the Beast, King Kong, Dr. Jekyll
and Mr. Hyde, the entire Frankenstein sub-genre. Of course The Hulk is a
comic book character, not archetypal source material; what's laudable about
this treatment of the Marvel character is the director's vision. A
heavyweight in the arena of action and CGI technology, HULK also slams
viewers with plenty to think about.
You know the story: the victim of stray radiation, scientist Bruce Banner
transforms into an angry bundle of muscles with green skin whenever he meets
up with severe emotional trauma. A rarity among Marvel heroes: Banner's
powers are but a reaction, though the big mute figure does use his strength
and immediate healing for the cause of good beyond the revenge targeted
at a given stressor. Indeed, we like the big guy because he saves others,
Superman-like, and displays human intelligence at least until he is forced
to react with more rage toward his pursuers.
The team of screenwriters portrays a military man, General Ross (Sam
Elliott), as the most relentless persecutor. Elliott does a marvelous job
as the ram-rod straight four-star general, a very hands-on keeper of the
peace who confronted Bruce Banner's scientist father David long before Bruce
suffered the first tinge of greenness. Elliott physically resembles Peter
Parker's editor from Spider-Man, but his General Ross is a rounder
character. Although Elliott has been accused of "almost" overacting in this
role (appropriate in such a campy role, no?), he plays Ross as a by-the-book
commander and a genuinely concerned father to Banner's ex-girlfriend, Betty
Ross (Jennifer Connelly).
Perhaps a bigger conflict in Bruce Banner's life is Mr. Talbot (Josh Lucas).
Talbot is the least developed villain in the piece, a puppet that stands
in for the greedy military-industrial-scientific complex (President
Eisenhower's original phrase). Lucas functions well enough in the part of a
fearless and uncaring fiend out to make a buck from the Hulk's DNA, if only
he could harvest some.
Jennifer Connelly's character, Betty, faces a quandary that truly engages
us. Once intimate with colleague Bruce Banner, she keeps a friendly
distance now. What an uncommon situation! A story lacking a physical love
interest would seem to be a hard one to tell today, but director Lee sculpts
a believable relationship between two young scientists who essentially do
not get the chance to show their love. Connelly's acting is the most
transparent in the piece.
Eric Bana as Bruce Banner turns in a good portrayal, though his brilliance
as a scientist is not promoted enough: at times Bana's vacant stares dull
the hyper-consciousness so necessary for Banner's predicament to be fully
moving. It's fair to say his clearest foil is his father, the discredited
scientist David Banner (Nick Nolte). The elder Banner has a hand in a most
curious subplot, and Nolte demonstrates his experience and expertise in
ranting on a par with the best actors of his generation.
This movie has good looks: Ang Lee apparently camped out in the digs of
Industrial Light and Magic a first and the results are both sumptuous
and subtle. For instance, the language of comic books is stylish and
understated, as Lee and his editors split the screen several ways, to
further the story as well as to build transitions within and between
sequences. Further, the computer-generated images and effects surrounding
them appear seamless. And it would probably take pages to explore the
extensive imagery that Lee spreads throughout the story. For one, we spot
repeated shots of mottled organic structures, patterns of vegetation,
swirling molecular designs, weathered and striated wood, snippets of mental
images shooting through Banner's feverish brain as he finds himself chased
through the plains and rocky passes of Monument Valley. All these shots,
along with variations on themes from downright deep stories, give us a
serious adaptation of the plight of the Hulk, himself one of the least
graceful of heroes.
But there are also cool chases scenes, including loads of fire power and an
over-the-top shooting gallery among the desert canyons. Lots of interaction
between the Hulk and his surroundings holds us fascinated. What Ang Lee has
put together is a solid companion piece to other films made from graphic
texts, and an artful exploration of conflicts both external and internal.
Copyright © 2003 Mark OHara